25 May Framed into a Corner
Last year at around this time I wrote a post about our efforts to get our previous film “Who Took Johnny” seen. There are similarities between that film and “All The Rage” in terms of public interest in the character/story/film and the realities of distribution that we have to deal with.
Since I covered so much of the same ground I’m going to “self plagiarize” from that post as I want to lay out our plan of action- and why we are taking that path we are- and I spent a lot of time thinking about that last year.
There are basically three ways for a film to reach an audience. In the first scenario, a well-financed production/distribution company pours its resources into making the a film and then handling publicity, marketing, and advertising. People then hear about the film from a variety of media sources and seek it out in theaters, on TV, or through streaming platforms. The second way is when a film producer cobbles together the resources to make a film and then gets it in past the gatekeepers at one of a handful of top tier festivals, giving it a launch pad for reviews and attention. A handful of these films will be acquired by a commercial distributor or a TV outlet. The third way is through word of mouth and advocacy. This group includes films that got past some of the gatekeepers but did not find a more organized distribution route. Word of mouth distribution actually requires a good deal of media support as well, and advocacy-based distribution relies on previously established networks of people who feel passionately about an idea.
With “Who Took Johnny” there was a great deal of public interest in the story – so there was an audience we could connect with. We knew that audiences responded to the film as well- but we couldn’t get festivals or distributors to see the value in it – so we also couldn’t get it written about. We didn’t want to do a theatrical for the film because we had already released about a third of it as a TV project, which meant it wouldn’t be eligible for an Academy Award. Still our efforts at raising awareness over the previous year meant that when we got it up on iTunes and Amazon it took off and sold 20k downloads in the first couple of months. Then it hit netflix and ended up on dozens of best of lists. It came out last October and it still receives dozens of positive tweets a week. Netflix paid only a fraction of what is was worth to them because we had no ground from which to negotiate.
We face a very similar situation with “All The Rage”. It took us a dozen years to make it, and except for some support via Kickstarter (and family) it was self funded. It took almost year of trying for us to get a festival to show it. When we did, the audience response was wildly supportive. We have since shown it at a few other festivals- with many more this month. Again, the audience support is profound- when our IMDB page went live last Friday we let fans on our page know and within three days there were 36 passionately supportive reviews. At the same time we face a very large uphill battle to get people to write about it. If it doesn’t get written about then it is almost impossible to get it to people who don’t already know about it- or in this case know about Dr. Sarno.
Very rarely, a film moves through the world virally with almost no media support. “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” and “Zeitgiest” are two that come to mind, reaching vast audiences almost entirely through word of mouth. These are rare examples. While getting distribution from a high-profile distributor works well for some important films, the process increasingly leaves well-made, important work struggling to get attention and distribution. A handful of films do make it through the festival gauntlet, and in this way successfully get connected to the distribution networks. It is generally only at this point, typically when the film is launched into theaters, that the press will review it, and advertising dollars are spent.
As Richard Brody pointed out in last week’s New Yorker (reminder: this was written last year), this relationship between the mainstream distribution model and the media is pretty broken, and it has left an increasing number of valuable films unwritten about, largely unseen, and thus forgotten about. If a film has no reviews, or articles written about it, it leaves no footprint- digital or otherwise.
We want our films to leave a footprint. If we don’t put them in theaters it is almost impossible to get the press to cover it. If it doesn’t get covered, people don’t think of it as legitimate. It all becomes about framing and how people get their information. Filmmakers rely on festivals to launch their films because writers and other media rely on the festivals to choose the worthy films. There is almost no apparatus to write about a film that doesn’t have either a festival or a theatrical release. Films that go straight to VOD or DVD find it almost impossible to get covered- and as mentioned above- if they don’t get covered in the press they are seen as not having legitimacy- making it nearly impossible to get anyone in the media to talk about them. This can be very frustrating for both film producers and audiences. While we have done some work to raise awareness about our film “All The Rage” we can’t simply put it out on DVD or VOD without first doing a theatrical release because then no one would write about it. As it wasn’t launched at a major festival we are already at a huge disadvantage in regards to getting distributors, press, and film bookers to take it seriously.
My partners and I have been making films for well over two decades and we have witnessed the evolution of distribution first hand. In fact we have hit the distribution wall with every film we’ve made. On top of that, I write about film for Documentary magazine, and have judged a number of festivals, so I have seen an increasing flow of strong films that faded into obscurity before they even launched. It has also been frustrating to see so many great films get a great deal of press and acclaim, and still find no distribution. Further, even those films that premiere at a big festival, get rave reviews, and find a distributor often quickly slip into obscurity.
Before we made films, I was in a band that was part of a DIY distribution scene. Our first singles came out on bedroom labels and even though we mostly sold them at our shows, we were also able to get them widely played on college radio. Our first 7 inch came out in 1991. Around that time recording technology was getting cheaper and more bands were able to record high quality records even on 4 track machines. By 1993 there was such a flood of 7 inch singles being produced that it was impossible for radio stations to listen to them all. We then saw the same process unfold a bit more slowly in the film world over the last 15 years.
As artists my partners and I have always taken matters into our own hands and done everything we could to get our films made, and the put them out into the world ourselves as well. We’ve thrown them in a van and toured, showing them in rock clubs using 16mm projectors. We’ve put two of our documentaries, “Horns and Halos” and “Battle for Brooklyn” into theaters ourselves – and got them both short-listed for the Oscar. In addition we took what we had learned and released our friends’ film, “Occupation: Dreamland” into theaters and got that one short-listed as well.
With “All The Rage” we’ll follow the same course. While we want to make it a widely available as possible right away, if we do that we will lose the opportunity to get the film written and talked about. We also believe that we have a strong shot at getting the film short listed for the Oscar. While very few people believed that “Horns and Halos” or “Battle for Brooklyn” had a chance, we successfully got them short listed with no industry support. While festivals and distributors don’t always see the value in our work, audiences and members of the academy seem to appreciate the work that we do. This is our strongest and most complex film so we want to give it a shot. We can’t sell DVD’s or VOD until we have screened the film in NY and LA for a full week long run. We’ll be doing that first.
We want to make it available as widely as possible- and we’re going to need help to do that. Below are some links you can use to find out where it’s playing, share the trailer, write a review, and book the film yourself.
Right now the most important thing we can do is make our NY premiere a huge success. You can help by buying tickets now and inviting others.
***Find a screening–
***Write a review on IMDB (scroll to bottom of the page where there is a link to “write a review)- you have to sign in with Facebook or Google to do so.
Request a screening in your town and help make it happen